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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Helicopter Eela, Review: No copter, too much of Eela

Helicopter Eela, Review: No copter, too much of Eela

An intriguing title, the film has nothing to do with helicopters. It is the story of a domineering and stubborn mother who has a fixation about her only son’s welfare and whereabouts. Trouble is he is twentyish and the last thing he needs or likes is being mothered all the time. Designed to showcase the talent of actress Kajol, and co-produced by hubby, actor Ajay Devgn, Helicopter Eela begins on a bright note and then peters down to mushy sentimentality.

Eela is an aspiring singer, dating to an advertising executive, Arun. He gets her a chance to sing for a Lifebuoy jingle, but the client wants to change the singer to have a male voice, which, he feels, will go better with the soap brand. But her talent is noticed, and she gets to sing a remix version of the hit song, ‘Ruk ruk ruk, arey baba ruk’, an Anu Malik composition. The song becomes a super-hit and she starts getting other offers, including modelling assignments and music videos. Soon afterwards, she proposes, and the two lovers get married. The couple have a son, who they name Vivan.

Arun is informed through a telegram (this part is set in the late 90s) that a relative has died at a young age. This sets him thinking. He is in his thirties, and most of his relatives, including his own father, did not live to be forty. He panics, packs his bags, and leaves, to face his fate alone. Eela now has no choice but to raise her child as a single mother. She gives up all her dreams to raise Vivan. Vivan grows up to be a musician and is now in college. That does not stop Eela from being around and all over him, all the time.

Independent and a typical young millennial, Vivan doesn't want his mother's life to revolve around him. He demands space, but Eela will have nothing of it. Being an over protective mother, Eela has her own ideas and joins her son's college, to spend more time with him. She had left her studies incomplete and by joining college in her forties, she can kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately, her plans backfire and Vivan is extremely uncomfortable with her lunchboxes and constant, probing presence. Her methods in life are far from conventional, and she is no paragon of virtue either. One day, he feels that he has had enough of her invading his privacy, and decides to leave home.

Based on the Gujarati stage play, Beta, Kaagdo (Son, Crow--in Gujarati), by Anand Gandhi, Helicopter Eela has screenplay by Mitesh Shah and Anand Gandhi and dialogue by Mitesh Shah. The duo also worked on this week’s other release, Tumbbad. Anand Gandhi had written the script some 17 years ago, and Eela’s character, in part, was inspired by his own mother. As the film progresses, Eela and Arun’s characters change from slice-of-life reality to incredible and over the top.

Redoing numbers of the 90s and filling in cameo appearances by a host of film personalities means a lot of insider and referential footage. Even this becomes too much, as it is all crammed-in during the first quarter of the film. Only Mahesh Bhatt is left to appear later in the day. All this is obviously done to add weightage, since it would not have been part of the play. How does Kajol manage to learn subjects that are not part of Commerce and Economics in a college that is exclusively for Commerce and Economics beats us. As does the fact that she is extremely short-sighted, but does not wear her spectacles to class, and screws up her eyes trying to read the board. There is too much of Eela, and she is doing too little, or things that are too insignificant to find place in a tight script. The joke about Ila Arun, a real-life actress singer, meeting Eela and Arun, and laughing at the co-incidence, is laboured. Eela’s husband Arun gets a raw deal in the script, dismissed with nonchalance and presumed dead. Saddling the lead player with an earthy name like Eela Raiturkar was a good idea.

Directed by Pradeep Sarkar (Parineeta, Laaga Chunari Men Daag, Mardaani), it is his first release in four years. Mardaani, another woman-centric film and rather well-executed, must have been in the minds of the producers when they approached him. For a man who is 63 now, he has captured parts of college life rather well. There is no dearth of sincerity in the performances he has elicited from his cast. A story wherein woman around 40 decides to join her son’s college was an interesting premise (a variant was seen in English Vinglish), but his heroine neither looks forty nor behaves like 40, so the point is lost. Supplying lunch-boxes seems to be the only occupation of Eela, something that could not possibly match her standard of living and life-style. An old woman is shown as the next door neighbour, who just stares every time Eela or Vivan come or go. Pray, why? Who is she?

Kajol as Eela Raiturkar looks ravishing and has those magnetic eyes. She’s been acting for 26 years and only once has there been a hiatus of three years between films. Otherwise, she has been working regularly. Now 44, she could easily pass off as 30, so the transition from her twentyish stage to fortyish is smooth. The problem is with the script that is transparently manipulative, not doing justice to her immense talent. Last year’s National Award for Best Actor winner Riddhi Sen as Vivaan is 20, just right for the role. He handles the guitar and piano well (Kajol plays the piano well, too) and goes through the predicament of a young man being the victim of an obsessed (with his welfare) mother quite well. His love interest and friends circle are convincingly created.

Tota Roy Chowdhury (Kahaani 2, Indu Sarkar, Satyamev Jayate) as Arun gets the wrong end of the stick in a poorly written part. Neha Dhupia as Padma, the professor in charge of dramatics, shows that she should be taken more seriously. Rashi Mal is Vivan’s love interest Nikita and Chirag Malhotra plays his best friend Yash. Both do good jobs. R.J. Alok has a small role as a Chemistry Professor in the Commerce College. Zakir Hussain acts as the college principal, with usual aplomb.

Playing themselves are Anu Malik, Ila Arun, Shaan, Baba Sehgal and Amitabh Bachchan. Baba sings his own rap number without any musical accompaniment at the drop of a hat in a scene shot at the iconic Liberty Cinema in Mumbai, while Amitabh is seen hosting his mega TV show, Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who Wants to be a Millionaire), with a twist in the plot. The one cameo that is really a small role is given to producer director Mahesh Bhatt. Bhatt’s brother Robin was the man who saw the play and introduced Gandhi to Devgn and is a script consultant on the project.

Six songs used to be a norm in Hindi movies till the 2000s, and here we have six in place. Surprisingly, all are in tune with the film. Due credit to Amit Trivedi and Raghav Sachar, the composers, and the singers. Pronunciations, as is the norm these days, are suspect in several words. Background score by Daniel B. George is among the assets. Cinematography by Sirsha Ray is eye-pleasing while editing by Dharmendra Sharma goes with the uneven pace of the film that could have been at least 20 minutes shorter than the 130 it notches.

The extended climax, which comes after a false climax, is an overture probably inspired by A Star is Born, and brings to a climax the indulgent proceedings.

In the end, Helicopter Eela has many big names appearing on screen, Ajay Devgn Ffilms as the name of the banner and one chopper of a title. The view from above might be fascinating, but with so many passengers on a limited capacity craft, but soon, it is an overloaded, bumpy landing.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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